Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doing It Her Way - Theresa Chaze Takes Self-Publishing Seriously

I have been hooked on writing since I was eleven years old when I wrote a poem for my Mom on Mother's Day. Since then I have worked in venues from short stores to screenplays. Although I have been writing for decades, it wasn't until the late 90's that I began to fully focus on creating a career. It has been a long row to hoe, but finally my work, both the fiction and non-fiction, is receiving positive attention. Not only have I grown as writer, but as a computer geek and promotional marketer. It took admitting how much I didn't know to realize how much I needed to know to be successful. By setting aside my pride, I was able to open doors to make writing more creative as well as how to get it to market.

My first finished novel was originally called Dragon's New Home. It was published as an ebook. At the time, I had very little knowledge of what meant. I was very naive when it came to promotions and marketing. I didn't know what it took to get a book noticed. Part of the problem was that ebooks were still in the infancy stage. Most people had never heard of them. Sales to say the least were disappointing. After six months, I pulled the book and did a rewrite.

A few months later, I received a letter from Publish America. They said they found my novel through my US copyright and wanted to publish it. They claimed to be a traditional publisher that would make my novel a best seller. It seemed too good to be true--and it was. PA is not a traditional publisher; they are a print on demand whose sole goal is to sell books to authors not bookstores. They claimed to do line by line editing along with creative original book covers. I signed a contract with them with hope in my heart and stars in my eyes. Had I done more research I never would have signed the contract. But hindsight is 20/20. I was still new to the computer world, which is why Dragon's New Home wasn't technically ready for publication. There were major technical errors, but since PA said they were going to do a line-by-line edit, I thought the problem was solved. What they said and what they did were two different things. The proof arrived with many errors. I went through it and made the corrections, but they never made it into the final product. The cover they created had nothing to do with the story, yet PA reassured me that the cover was professional designed for it. I was naive and believed them. The book was released. It was overly priced and poor quality. Reviewers liked the story, the characters and the concept; however, they criticized the technical errors such a spelling and punctuation--all the things that even a beginning editor would have caught. Even with the mistakes, Dragon's New Home sold better than many other PA books.

While promoting Dragon's New Home, I wrote the sequel, Dragon Domain. Half way through I realized that another book would be needed to tell the whole story and the Dragon Clan Trilogy was born. The more I became involved on the internet, the more writers I met and the more aware I became not only of how to promote but why it was so difficult for me to get my book on brick and mortar shelves. Although Print on Demand books were growing in availability and popularity, PA was being exposed as an author mill that would publish anything. Their lack of discrimination cast a shadow on all the books they were associated with. When the royalty checks started coming late and short, I began to question PA and was met with hostility. There were people contacting me, telling me how much they enjoyed reading it, yet I the royalty check didn't reflect that books were being sold. The more I learned the more foolish I felt. After about a year, I asked for the contract to be terminated. PA refused. It was very little comfort to learn that I was only one of hundreds of authors who were in the same boat. One author met the terms of viewing his records by flying to the home office; since he took his accountant with him, PA denied him access. Many of us formed a group to pressure the government and the media to investigate; although, we did get some attention, it did very little good. Eventually I started an anti-promotional campaign against my own book, telling people not to buy it.

A few months later I learned that if a book is changed by more than 20% it is considered a new product. I rewrote it and changed the title to Awakening the Dragon--Book One of the Dragon Clan Trilogy. Around this time, other authors had started to sue PA and win; they had started releasing authors who sent requests by certified mail. I sent the letter and my rights were released.

Through a friend, I found and joined an online group called Writers Life. It is a diverse group of writers who are very willing to share information and resources. Janet Elaine Smith was one of the authors. Not only was she a very prolific writer, but she also did editing and promotions for Pagefree Publishing. She spoke highly of the company. I did the research and couldn't find any negative comments about them at the time. They also worked with the Print on Demand technologies; however, they are a subsidy press. They charged a several hundred dollar set up fee with most of their serves costing extra. I contacted them; Kim seemed to be very knowledgeable and ethical, so I signed with them. At the time, they were offering a basic level edit for free. I contracted for both novels. Dragon Domain was send first. The proof came back with many errors. Some of them were mine; some of them the Pagefree added. The biggest one was the changing of outed to ousted. Jane outed Raven as being a witch, but Pagefree had her being ousted. I sent back the changes; Pagefree tried to charge me for additional editing fees. I refused to pay them and threatened to pull both books. Pagefree changed their mind. When the proof for Awakening the Dragon arrived, there were even more errors. I pulled the book and reedited. When I resubmitted, they tried to charge me as a new submission. Again, I refused. The second proof contained formatting errors, which I asked to be fixed. They did fix those, but in the process, they created others. The final product had chapters starting at the bottom of the previous page instead of at the top of a new page. They offered to fix the errors for a price. I refused. It was their mistake; why should I pay for the repair? They reduced the price, but insisted on payment. We both dug our heels in. I tried to pull my books, but they were refusing to return my payment. I could either eat the total cost or release as is. May 2006 both books
> were released. Soon after, Pagefree turned on Janet. After all the authors she had brought to them, they slandered her professional name and fired her as their promotional director. Suddenly I had deja vu and a sick feeling.

My promotional skills had improved. Even with the formatting errors, I was confident that I could get enough books sold in a year to interest a traditional publisher. I placed ads in magazine, did interviews and created a newsletter that rapidly became a popular ezine called Messages From The Universe. I was rapidly becoming a computer geek and a desktop publisher. By cold calling bookstores, I interested them in carrying my novels. Unfortunately, the middle of October 2006 a situation beyond my control led to a seven month illness. I lost all the momentum that I had gained. But even in that short time, I was able to get over 40 stores nationwide to carry my novels along with two local stores including Borders. In addition, I learned the benefits of networking on the net not only in my target audience but also by spiraling out to the general fiction market.

Royalties were to be paid quarterly. The first quarter came and went without a check. When I questioned Pagefree, I was told that I hadn't met the 25.00 threshold for a payment, but that the next quarter I would be receiving a check. The second quarter also pasted without a check. My emails and phone messages went unreturned. Other Pagefree authors contacted me about unpaid royalties. I wasn't the only one who was being cheated.
>
> I started my questioning if all the hard work, lack of sleep and missed good times was worth it. Frustrated, I created ebook versions of both books and sold them off my site. My ebook of shadows, Out of the Shadows and Into the Light was finished and made available. It was their success that kept me going. Early spring of 07, I started researching what it would take to self publish. What I found was amazing. The print on demand technology makes the process simple and inexpensive. I found a POD printer that could produce a 300 page mass paperback with four-color cover for less than $4.00. The drawback was getting a distributor. Ingram wouldn't consider small publishers with a listing less than ten; there were also additional cost involved. They did, however, have associated printers/distributors that they accepted work through. The most popular was Lightning Source. Although Lightning Source wasn't exactly what I wanted and they were more costly, they did get my novels listed with Ingram and Baker & Taylor. I decided that they were worth the trade off until I could get a longer list of available titles and a bigger budget.

In May, I bought my block of ten of ISBN numbers. If an author is going to be publishing more than two books, the block is the cheapest way to go, especially since paperback and ebooks need to be listed separately. In addition, I learned more about desktop publishing; specifically, how to properly format for print. With what I had been doing for Messages From The Universe, it was only a small step for both the typesetting and the creation of the cover. Awakening the Dragon was submitted. The only change was that cover needed to be tweaked for size. Two weeks later, I had the proof in my hands and I was ready to start the promotion machine again as well as prepare Dragon Domain for a Thanksgiving release date.

What I learned in the past five years is as long as there are people with a dream, there will be someone who will try to take advantage of it. Publishers like Publish America and Pagefree aren’t interested in creating successful books. That isn’t how they make their money. Instead, their goal is to sign up writers and con them into paying for services, many of which aren’t provided or aren’t needed. Books that become successful enough to warrant royalty payments are usually dropped; royalties cost in accountant fees and involve a tax trail.

By doing it for myself, I proved that publishing isn’t that difficult or expensive as many of the POD companies are making it out to be. They are not concern with the quality of the book as much as their own bottom line. It’s when I decided that I was going to expand Valkyrie Publishing to include a consulting service. I don’t have the accounting skills to publish others’ books, but I can help them do it for themselves. What I do is typeset, create covers and help with the promotions. I make the books look professional. The author maintains control of the content and the profits. It is a win-win situation for both of us.

In the long run, bookstores aren’t looking at who publishes the book, but quality between the covers, if it is returnable, and what kind of discount is offered. First and foremost, books need to be well written and edited. Secondly, it needs to be returnable. With the low profit margin, bookstores aren’t willing to take risks on new authors if they don’t have a little insurance backing it. Thirdly, the book has to be cost effective. The higher the cover price, the less likely it will sell. Royalties are great but don’t expect a big payoff the first time out of the gate. In addition, the minimum discount off the cover is 50% with the industry standard being 55%. Having less than all three and you are just working against yourself.

In August, I formally terminated my association with Pagefree, but have yet to receive a royalty check. I rather suspect I will need to take legal action in order to be paid what I am due.

Theresa Chaze is the author of AWAKENING THE DRAGON and the owner of Valkyrie Publishing. You can visit her website at www.theresachaze.com.

If you would like to comment, click here!

Tags: , , ,